ACW is at the forefront, where it belongs, of a debate over the particulars of a worthwhile deal with Iran. Three underlying assumptions need to be met for these particulars to come into play: (1) maximalist conditions are set aside; (2) Tehran is willing to agree to export much of its enriched stocks of fissile material, accept stockpile constraints commensurate with peaceful uses, and intrusive monitoring that provides confidence in commitments reached; and (3) US congressional majorities will not sabotage a deal within these parameters, if one is available, by blocking the relief on Iranian sanctions.
Scott Kemp, with help from Steve Fetter, has provided a helpful framework to assess technicalities. This framework allows readers to design a deal based on how much warning time of an Iranian sprint towards a bomb is believed necessary. Time will be needed for diplomatic intervention or military preparations prior to punishing strikes. Timelines are a useful device to think about a prospective deal.
Now let’s muddy these waters a bit. If a diplomatic settlement can somehow be reached, technical monitoring devices will help provide warning time. In addition, technical monitoring devices can help clarify the pace at which Tehran is walking away from the deal. That pace can be slow and incremental, or faster. If Iran sprints towards a bomb, in situ technical monitoring devices will probably be unplugged, so to speak.
If the deal becomes completely undone, it will not be for trivial reasons. And if the circumstances under which an agreement breaks down are quite severe, prospects for successful diplomatic intervention are likely to be remote. Put another way, the timeline for diplomacy is likely to be longer than the timeline to generate highly enriched uranium.
In the event that Tehran is willing to accept serious constraints on its bomb-making capabilities, prepare for a reprise of debates that were staples during the Cold War: Are we being lulled into a false sense of security? Is an untrustworthy state intent on reaching an agreement in order to violate it, sooner or later?
These questions were very much in play during the in Kennedy administration’s negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev finally agreed to a small number of on-site inspections and limited monitoring arrangements. The Kennedy administration and treaty skeptics demanded more, deeming these arrangements insufficient to prevent cheating and breakout scenarios. Splitting the difference between the proposed numbers – two/three vs. seven – seemed hard but reasonable. The efforts of Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin to bridge this gap were rebuffed by Khrushchev. Dobrynin’s memoir, discussed in an earlier post, has this evocative passage:
‘So you want us unilaterally to open entire regions of our country to foreign intelligence?’ Khrushchev replied. ‘Even after the Soviet government had agreed to two or three inspections, the Western powers made an effort to include all but half of the country into the area covered by this inspection. We will not agree to this. I am already displeased with myself for agreeing to these two or three inspections on the Soviet territory. Now I see that we should take this proposal back. To provide all necessary monitoring it’s enough to establish two or three automated seismic stations. And thanks to you I made a fool of myself, because as soon as we made our proposal we were answered with a demand to agree to eight to ten, and now seven inspections a year, which the Soviet Union can’t accept. All further concessions would not be to Kennedy, but to Goldwater and other hawks.’
Intrusive and remote monitoring arrangements provide assurance that the terms of a deal are being respected, along with early warning of militarily significant breaches. Assurance is a political and not a technical construct. Politics and national security trump technicalities. And sometimes technicalities get in the way of deal making. It took 33 more years to negotiate the CTBT.